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Minn. Recycling Coalition: Proposed Refund System 'Inconvenient' and 'Messy'

Created: 02/03/2014 9:51 PM WDIO.com
By: Alan Hoglund
ahoglund@wdio.com

The result of a battle over how Minnesota does recycling could end up costing you more every time you visit the grocery store. A decades-old proposal to increase recycling by giving refunds to shoppers for drink containers is resurfacing.

The Recycling Redemption System, or one like it, is already in place in ten states, including Michigan and Iowa. If it comes to Minnesota, consumers would pay 10 cents more per beverage container they buy at the grocery store, and receive 10 cents back when they're recycled.

Tim Wilkin is with a Recycle Smart Minnesota, a coalition of organizations opposing the system. Touring the state, he stopped in Duluth Monday to explain why. He said the plan is inconvenient and messy. "They [consumers] have to pull them out one by one, touching all the sticky cans that have been dripping all over each other."

A Minnesota Pollution Control Agency report says the system would cost beverage producers $29 million each year to run the program, not including the cost to consumers or the state. Wilkin, however, told Eyewitness News that it will cost the consumer more than seven times that amount.

"Add it all up and it's $219 million out of the consumers' pocket for maybe a two percent increase in the overall recycling rate."

Wilkin said that includes the cost of gas consumers will use while bringing their cans to one of the 400 proposed redemption centers. He said they will be positioned across the state in such a way that people in rural Minnesota may have to drive across two counties to recycle their containers.

Supporting the proposal for years is Conservation Minnesota. Executive Director Paul Austin's expected change in the recycling rate was much higher than Wilkin's estimate. "This will more than double the recycling rate for beverage containers and the reason is because people have more options," he said.

Austin described a recycling problem in Minnesota. Each day, he said "we throw away enough aluminum cans, just put them in the landfill or in the trash to stretch from end-to-end from Minneapolis to Grand Marais."

He said plastic bottles thrown away each day would stretch from Winona to Bemidji. "This is a huge issue and those are valuable materials. There is tremendous energy savings that can come from using recycled material instead of having to use new material. Minnesotans are not wasteful people so I'm sure that's something that they all want to take care of."

Austin sees the new system as a way to change that. However Wilkin said single-sort recycling is more effective.

"The City of Minneapolis switched to that method recently and saw a 63 percent increase in recycling," Wilkin said.

If the new system goes into effect, and consumers continue recycling how they are now, Wilkin said "every can they put in they'll lose a dime. Some people might be in a position to throw that kind of money away but I guarantee you most consumers that would be a financial burden on them."

Austin said the money won't just disappear. "People can still put the into their single sort recycling and if they do then the deposit goes to support their local recycling programs."

Wilkin said the proposed system will likely turn up in the Minnesota Legislature sometime within the next two years.

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